A test cast for cross-partisan climate policy


in Economics, Politics, The environment

One strategy adopted by some environmentalists is to try to win over moderate conservative voters to favour climate action by separating it from other social issues and choosing policy instruments which they expect to appeal to conservatives as well, like carbon taxes or cap-and-dividend. Often, the emphasis is on revenue neutral carbon prices, where the revenue is offset by reducing other taxes, rather than spent on additional climate change mitigation efforts or social priorities.

Notably, this is the strategy of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) and climatologist James Hansen.

This week’s episode of The Energy Gang podcast includes a very interesting discussion of a proposed carbon tax on the ballot in Washington State. The logic behind it has explicitly been to forge post-partisan consensus instead of a left-wing coalition. Apparently, it has been rejected by mainstream environmental groups, in part because they don’t think such a coalition can succeed in getting it passed (or perhaps avoid having it gutted by state legislatures when they would be able to amend it in two years). The panel on the podcast call the issue “a civil war within the environmental left”.

They discuss this potential carbon tax in the context of overcoming Republican intransigence in the face of any effective climate change policy, explicitly considering the logic of teasing climate change out as an independent issue and presenting policy solutions that don’t seek to simultaneously advance other agendas.

At least on panelist emphasized the core logic behind cap-and-dividend as a failure in terms of political saleability (which is meant to be its strongest virtue). He claims that nobody likes revenue neutrality – it seems pointless to collect a tax and then refund it somehow. Also, this approach puts the ‘tax’ element forward. He argues that it would be much more effective to spend the revenues promoting a transition to a low-carbon economy, lead the political messaging by emphasizing how we’re investing in climate safe energy, and then put the tax at the back end as an explanation for how it will be paid for.

I would be interested in seeing Hansen and/or the CCL’s responses to this.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

. October 24, 2016 at 8:52 pm

Initiative 732, as it is known, would tax carbon emissions at a rate reaching $25-a-ton in 2018 and then rising by 3.5% plus inflation every year, to a maximum of $100 in 2016 dollars. Today’s levy in British Columbia is C$30 ($23) a ton. As in the Canadian province, the proceeds would be recycled into tax cuts elsewhere. The sales tax would fall from 6.5% to 5.5%. Low-income workers would get a tax rebate. And, to help placate affected businesses, manufacturing taxes would fall.

Yoram Bauman, who heads the Yes campaign (and who somehow makes his living by performing economics-themed stand-up comedy) proudly notes that three Republican state legislators support the initiative, and that it has not attracted the well-funded opposition from the oil lobby that a revenue-raising proposal might. Unfortunately, the price of that has been to alienate left-wing environmentalists, who are loth to give up the opportunity to use a carbon tax to fund new spending.

The debate is ill-tempered. Mr Bauman did not get things off to a good start in 2015 when he complained about the left’s “unyielding desire to tie everything to bigger government” and “willingness to use race and class as political weapons in order to pursue that desire”. Members of one environmental group, the Sierra Club, performed parliamentary manoeuvres worthy of Ted Cruz: an attempt to change the group’s position from “do not support” to a more neutral stance was thwarted with help from Robert’s Rules of Order.


. October 31, 2016 at 4:50 pm
. October 31, 2016 at 4:51 pm

“Voters in a progressive Pacific Northwestern state could approve the nation’s first carbon tax next week, providing a much-sought victory to proponents of legislative climate action — and possibly a model for the rest of the country.

And yet the ballot measure is at equal risk of failing spectacularly. Not because of the usual oil and coal industry foes, or even because it includes the dreaded t-word. No, the biggest obstacle in its way: other environmentalists.

An unlikely array of local and national organizations have come out against — or declined to support — Washington state’s carbon tax initiative, which will appear on the ballot as I-732. Their concerns: That a revenue-neutral carbon tax wouldn’t raise money for investing in clean energy and communities, and that people of color didn’t get a fair say in crafting the policy.”

. November 4, 2016 at 11:44 am
. November 11, 2016 at 6:30 pm

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: